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The controversial debate over single sex education has existed for decades with many different perspectives. Does separating males and females at key stages in their education and development alter their entire futures? Certainly the number of single gender schools has halved within the last two decades. But why? The fight for gender equality is on-going, meanwhile the existence of single gender schools is asking for boys and girls to be treated differently. From experiencing both co-educational and segregated gender education in my understanding of the struggles of both is fairly strong. Personally I faced the challenges of male classmates dominating discussions, but also the overwhelming environment of only being surrounded by girls where tensions and arguments were very common as well as high emotional intensity. The perceptions that; single gender schools receive higher exam grades, girls in single gender schools are more likely to take ‘male’ dominated subjects and that opposite sexes distract each other within the classroom will be challenged in this essay.
The view that if girls and boys are educated seperatly it will eliminate distraction and allow them to concentrate fully on their studies has been challenged by Richard Cairns, Headmaster of Brighton College. His claims state that, “it is highly unnatural to segregate boys and girls at such a key stage of their development.” He believes that splitting up the sexes leaves the pupils at a “huge disadvantage” when they reach working life as they have missed out on many years of socialising and working together. Dr Bousted, general secretary of the Assosiation of Teachers and Lecturers, claims that, “boys learn better when they are with girls and they actually learn to get on better”. There is no denying that boys and girls learn differently, however, no two girls learn the same as each other, so is this a strong enough reason for segregation? Only a very small amount of educators are formally trained in gender specific teaching techniques. Good teachers should carry the ability to play each gender’s strengths to the advantage of the pupils. Recent studies have also concluded that co-educational schools have been found to be less pressured environments with less gender specific intensity and a more balanced approach, creating what students found to be a generally kinder atmosphere. “Boys and girls do better in a mixed-school setting, as long as it is a well-run school. A mixed-school setting is by far more congenial” claims Sir Michael Wilshaw, Head of Ofstead who has previously been a Headmaster at an all boys’ school and a mixed school.
Fiona Boulton, the Head of all girls’ school Guildford High backs up this statement by stating that the benefits of single-sex schooling are “overblown”. “There are lots of divides in this country. We talk about independent v state, boys v girls – they are all children. We just need to work out how to teach children and how to get the best out of each child rather than which school they are in.”
Academic grades are arguably the most important part of school. Evidence shows that on average single sex schools obtain higher grades than co-educational. On average 55% of pupils from mixed education gained five good GCSEs compared to 75% of students from a single gender school. This however, is ignoring all underlying factors. Grammer and private schools are much more likely to be single sex, therefore, a higher proportion of ethenic minority students attend and a lower than average number of deprived pupils (eligible for free school meals).
Education ought to be preparation for working life. As well as academic achievements I believe school should also be about the experiences, socialisation and opportunities. Keeping children in an unrealistic bubble during school may make the transition from school life into adult, working life even more challenging as it will also be an introduction to working alongside the opposite sex. There is no denying that males and females will interact and socialise during their time at school but working beside them and sharing experiences are clearly missed. Studies have shown that boys begin to develop unrealistic, sexist attitudes about girls with none there to correct the misconceptions. Even the simple matter of friendship is altered. From my own observations, I have concluded that students from a co-ed school are more likely to have closer bonds with the opposite sex than those attending a single gender institute. This may be an obvious statement as it is clear that in mixed schools the opposite genders are spending longer periods of time together compared to those attending education with only one sex, but I believe mixed gender friendships are an important part of life that may be being neglected. Richard Cairns states that “being more at ease with the opposite sex and, above all, the ability to see girls or boys simply as friends, not mearly as potential dates” may be at risk to single sex school students. There is no denying that pupils attending single sex schools will interact with the opposite sex, however, the relationships that are created
A positive perception of single gender education is the idea that girls are more likely to take traditionally more ‘male’ dominated subjects such as science and maths without the ‘intimidation’ of boys. Girls at single-sex schools were 85 per cent more likely to take advanced maths than those in attendance at co-ed schools and 79 per cent more likely to study chemistry. Professor Alan Smithers, Director of Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham counters this argument. His studies reveal that high achieving females at single gender schools are just as likely to take A-level physics as those attending mixed classes. Those who are mathmatically minded and are good at subjects within the STEM category will generally take these subjects no matter if there are boys in the class or not.
In the UK, during recent years the number of single gender schools has been in decline. Within the last decade 130 independent schools that were previously single sex, have either become co-educational or closed down completely. The same trend has occurred in the state sector. The number of single gender schools across Britain has decreaced from 2500 to only 400 over the last two decades. I believe the choice should still exist for parents however, with the number of single sex schools declining so rapidly the choice may not stay available in the long term. Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at Buckingham University, states that he regularly informs parents who claim that their daughters would benefit from an all girl environment that, “half a century of research has not shown any dramatic or consistant advantages for single-sex education”.
Both educations clearly have their pros and cons as they have been in existance for numerous years. However, the recent decline in single sex education has brought to light that maybe one type holds more benefits than the other. Appears to be more beneficial to females than males I believe the choice should still be offered as long as it is in demand, nevertheless the decision will be deciding the future for the pupil either in a beneficial or disadvantageous way. Higher grades may be taken away from a school career spent with only one sex, but could social skills be lacking?

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